Academic journal article Genders

Big Bad Chinese Mama: Asian Cyber-Feminism and Subversive Textual Strategies

Academic journal article Genders

Big Bad Chinese Mama: Asian Cyber-Feminism and Subversive Textual Strategies

Article excerpt

Work, play, art, science, literature, sex, education ... digitization leaves nothing untouched. Social relations are being transformed by the development of telecommuting, hypermedia systems, and the new world of on-line information. In particular, everything in the vicinity of sex, gender, and sexuality is being dramatically rewired (Plant, Babes in the Net).

I am an anti-geisha (


[1] Masculine fantasies about Asian women, that have excited the imagination of both Western and Asian men, have often inscribed them as gentle, submissive, and servile--they are concubines, maids, flight attendants and prostitutes, among others. Some of the most powerful and enduring images have been sustained by persistent narratives of Chinese and Japanese women appearing as a conflation of all of the above, and more, in the same vein. They can best be exemplified in the imagery of the Madame Chrysanthemum/Butterfly discourse, along with what is perhaps the supreme male fantasy and the one imbued with the most mystique and erotic promise--the geisha. The thriving global business in the trafficking of women, known as the mail-order bride industry, owes much to the myth of the exotic, submissive, demure, sexualized Asian woman imagined through this cluster of images. The sheer force of its persistent repetition has kept alive trite but tenacious images that still apparently have the power to excite the erotic imagination.


[2] Gendered and racialized identities such as these are, of course, hotly contested terrains. Contesting voices can be heard in the academy, in film, literature, politics and other spaces in the public sphere. The focus of this essay, however, is on cyberspace as a site for the development of strategies for the subversion of the cultural fantasies of Asian women's identities, and for attempts to recreate alternative imagery.

[3] I will examine Asian women's struggle for representation through the disruption of received images. In the example I have chosen, attempts to reclaim gender and racial identity are especially compelling. Their success in unsettling conventional images, and rupturing a long narrative tradition of the eroticized and exoticized Asian woman, has been facilitated by the uniting of two devices, one technological, the other literary: the Internet is the medium; grotesque/carnivalesque textual practices constitute the feminist critical strategy and political method.

[4] The work of Wacjman and others has shown that digital technologies can facilitate the blurring of boundaries and diminish the power of gendered binaries. On the Internet, people can choose their disguises and assume alternative identities that run counter to the conventional imperatives of gender presentation. An imaginative and arresting example of this is to be found on the website of the "Big Bad Chinese Mama", an invention of Kristina Wong. Her website is what she calls a "mock mail-order bride site". It is a surprise in waiting for unsuspecting consumers. The myths and fantasies that sustain the commodification of Asian women on the global market are easily located and reproduced in cyberspace. The mail-order bride industry is operated primarily on the Internet. Its rhizomic structure allows multiple links to pornography, and it provides vast scope and audience. The Internet is a material and symbolic apparatus, a semiotic and social agent among others (Braidotti, 1996). It is no wonder then that Wong has chosen the same powerful semiotic agent on which to launch her transgressive counter discourse. The mock mail-order bride website, the home of the Big Bad Chinese Mama, is the privileged site of that transgression.


[5] I have drawn liberally on Bakhtin's analysis of the carnivalesque novels of Rabelais for my examination of Wong's text. Wong has deployed the strategies of the carnivalesque to produce a topsy-turvy world in which "Hello Kitty" becomes "Bitchy Kat", her absent mouth replaced by one spouting obscenities, in which a geisha wears a "qipao" (traditional tight-fitting Chinese dress, also known as a cheongsam), and may appear with two heads, no head or seven eyes, and in which mail-order brides sport face metal (http://www. …

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